Gandharan Buddhist Reliquary

SKU LK.024

400 AD to 600 AD


3.7″ (9.4cm) high x 4.3″ (10.9cm) wide





Gallery Location



According to religious texts, the historical Buddha Shayamuni was cremated after his death and his ashes distributed between eight reliquaries. These were placed in eight hemispherical mounds known as stupas. In the third century B.C. the north Indian ruler, King Ashoka, is reputed to have opened these monuments and further subdivided the ashes between a larger number of stupas. This was regarded as an act of great piety as it enabled many more believers to have access to the relics. Buddhism spread to Gandhara from the Ganges basin in northern India in the second century B.C. In the following centuries many religious sites in Gandhara claimed to possess relics of the Buddha and they became important pilgrimage destinations, visited by devotees from all over Asia, especially China.

This vessel may have contained a relic as well as other small offerings such as glass beads or coins. Such containers were often donated to monastic foundations by lay followers as a means to earn merit and generate good karma. The design of the vessel is simple and elegant, its rounded form emphasized by several unevenly spaced incised circles. The small umbrella-like finial is a reference to the architecture of the stupas in which relics were stored. These were designed to reflect the order of the cosmos. The base was associated with the earthly sphere, whilst the ‘umbrellas’ symbolized the heavens. This remarkable object is carved from schist, a material indigenous to the region and therefore popular with local carvers. As a physical manifestation of early Buddhist piety this object has importance historical and religious associations.

Similar examples (with donor inscriptions) can be found in, ‘The Art of Gandhara in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,’ (New York, 2007), p. 23.

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